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April 11, 2013

Ignoring uncomfortable facts

I know I should not be surprised, but I am, but the near-silence in major-media outlets about the Kermit Gosnell trial.  The unwillingess to report on this story -- an unwillingness that, it is most reasonable to conclude, reflects the reporters' decision that it would be unhelpful to the cause of expanding abortion rights -- is, like the facts of the case, disgusting.  A bit, from the International Business Times:

Horrific testimony in the trial over the last couple of weeks has revealed tales of the abortionist and his workers at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic allegedly snipping fetuses' spines with scissors to "ensure fetal demise," jars of terminated fetuses' feet that Gosnell allegedly kept at the clinic, and a baby "screeching ... like a little alien" during a so-called live-birth abortion procedure allegedly performed at the clinic.

"Screeching like a little alien."  Lord have mercy.

NOTE:     Kirsten Powers' USA Today column is a welcome exception:

Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams intoned, "A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh," as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn't make the cut.

You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." It's about basic human rights.

The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.

Posted by Rick Garnett on April 11, 2013 at 08:26 AM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Comments

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The extremity of tone and temper in this post will only, I'm afraid, appear to vindicate that oafish lumping of the Roman Church with theocratic 'bad guys' and 'extremists' done by those who've agitated Professor Garnett so. Likewise, leaps like the suggestion that the lack of reporting on the Gosnell trial reflect 'the reporters' decision that it would be unhelpful to the cause of expanding abortion rights…’ are simply over the top. Bizarre...

I am sorry, but I see no ulterior motive here, and find the suggestion of such by Professor Garnett most disturbing.

Please dial it down.

Posted by: Mark | Apr 11, 2013 12:08:54 PM

Hi Professor Garnett,

I would agree with you that Dr. (and I'm using that title lossely) Gosnell deserves a long prison term if he is found guilty of these charges. And I think your anger is most appropriate. However, I also wonder if, besides the anger, we also need to ask ourselves how to prevent future Dr. Gosnells. I ask this because I'm struck but the fact that he was practicing in Pennsylvania, which I have understood to have long been one of the most restrictive states in terms of abortion rights and in inspecting abortion facilities. Why did this atmosphere not serve as a deterrent to him and why didn't he try to practice in a state like New York, which has looser laws? Why did the inspection laws in Pennsylvania not catch him sooner? And if Pennsylvania's stricter laws did not stop or dissuade him, then what was wrong about Pennsylvania's laws that failed to do that?

I'm not trying to argue that the laws should be loosened because they didn't stop Dr. Gosnell. But it does seem to me to further reflect on such laws and if they can be either improved or if they really are that effective and that abortion is more of a cultural problem, rather than a legal one. I live in Michigan and I remember when Dr. Kervorkian was operating here and the folks who opposed him did so without using the anger at him to try and solve the problem that he posed. It took the culture and private actors, and not those who opposed him, to finally make him irrelevant (plus the fact that he could be his own worst enemy). I fear that I may see the same parallels here.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 11, 2013 1:00:47 PM

Ed -- my frustration is with the unwillingness (especially among those who support abortion rights) to confront the fact that this happened, has happened, and will happen. Whenever a pro-life person does something stupid or evil, it's front-page news, and it is demanded of all pro-life folks that they distance themselves and denounce it. At the very least, Planned Parenthood and Nancy Pelosi should be out front saying, "this was outrageous and evil."

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 11, 2013 2:36:20 PM

"At the very least, Planned Parenthood and Nancy Pelosi should be out front saying, 'this was outrageous and evil.'"

Rick,

Try as I might, I am having a hard time completely disagreeing with you. I can't fully agree that the near silence of many major media outlets "reflects the reporters' decision that it would be unhelpful to the cause of expanding abortion rights." One possibility, for example, would be that reporters might find extensive coverage of the Gosnell trial would be helpful to the cause of those trying to *curtail* abortion rights that are already perfectly legal, not harmful to those trying to expand them. In any case, I agree that the lack of coverage requires an explanation.

On the other hand, I would have to say that at least *part* of the pro-life consternation at the lack of coverage of the Gosnell trial stems from the fact that some no doubt see it as an opportunity to damage the reputation of *all* abortionists, abortions, and the abortion industry. Wide and detailed coverage of the trial would be good pro-life propaganda: Gosnell is on trial for seven counts of first-degree murder, therefore, abortionists are monsters, and the abortion industry is evil. However, say a nurse were on trial for seven counts of murder for surreptitiously euthanizing hospital patients. That would hardly discredit the nursing profession or the hospital industry. Similarly, those who have strong feelings against illegal immigrants like to see major coverage of crimes committed by those who are here illegally as a way of blackening the reputation of illegal immigrants in general. We do not, as a rule, require representatives of groups or industries to denounce wrongdoers from their ranks when the wrongdoing is clearly isolated to the wrongdoers themselves. It is, after all, unjust to judge a group or industry by a minority of wrongdoers.

There's one further irony here, it seems to me, and it is that while many pro-lifers would like to see Gosnell convicted of murder for "post-birth abortion," under other circumstances they quite seriously argue that a human life is no less a human life ten minutes before it exits the womb than it is ten minutes after. I personally find Gosnell's alleged crimes horrifying, but that is because, to some extent at least, I recognize birth a very significant marker in the life of a human being. But from the pro-life standpoint, why would it be any more acceptable to cut the spine of an infant in the womb *before* aborting it than *after* aborting it. It is, in fact, fairly standard in late-term abortions to inject a chemical into the heart of the fetus while it is still in the womb to insure that it dies before the abortion.

I wonder if, paradoxically, pro-lifers do not weaken their moral case about the continuity of life from conception onward by making such vigorous and emotional protests against late-term abortions. Of course, Gosnell, in the seven cases he is being tried for, is being tried not for late-term abortion, but for murder in the form of "post-birth abortion" (which of course is not abortion at all).


Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 11, 2013 3:41:47 PM

Professor Garnett,

Sure they should. But we could also conversely look at a related event, like the killing of Dr. Tiller (I think that was his name) down in Kansas. Did John Boehner and National Right to Life condemn that(and maybe they did and I just don't remember)? Also, I don't remember much media coverage on that event, as well. I would guess that's because our news media has become an entertainment venue and stories like these just aren't that entertaining. And that's because too many folks in our society don't accept discussion of hard issues.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 11, 2013 4:16:21 PM

David -- first, don't try (to disagree with me) TOO hard. You know what they say about broken clocks (i.e., me). =-)

Next -- yes, to be sure, part of pro-lifers' frustration with the willful failure to adequately cover the story is that we do believe (correctly, I think) that adequate coverage would make people think and reflect about abortion more generally.

And -- while I think you are right that "It is, after all, unjust to judge a group or industry by a minority of wrongdoers", part of the frustration here is the double-standard: Pro-lifers (and Catholic priests, etc.) *are* routinely judged (and condemned) for what a tiny group of wrongdoers do.

Finally -- with respect to your last two paragraphs: (1) I do not see the force of the suggestion that objecting strongly to late-term abortions somehow undermines the claim that human life begins, and should be protected in law, when, well, it begins. We, all the time, express and feel more horror about gruesome and grisly wrongs, without thinking that other less visibly gruesome wrongs are not wrongs. (2) I don't see the "irony" in the third paragraph. Yes, it is true that it is wrong to cut the spine of a baby that manages to survive and abortion, *and* it is wrong to cut the spine of a baby in the birth-canal. (That said, the Gosnell case should (and would, if it were responsibly covered) make us think hard about the claims of those who say (e.g., Sen. Boxer) that the right to abortion is the right to procure the death of the child, even if the child survives and could be saved.)

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 11, 2013 4:23:24 PM

Ed -- yes, it was both loudly demanded that they do so (but, why should they have had to?) and they did. And, there was TONS of coverage of that and similar events.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 11, 2013 4:24:26 PM

There was tons of coverage? Professor Garnett, I must have honestly missed that (although if it wasn't on NPR, then I probably missed it). I try to avoid cable news like the plague.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 11, 2013 4:27:28 PM

Dr. Gosnell is the sort of back alley butcher sort that takes advantage of the lack of abortion rights and affordable coverage, so if media should think coverage would burden protection of early term abortion and clinics who would not abuse the medical ethics of the profession in the way he did, they are misguided.

Over the years, I did not see much coverage of all the violence and vandalism against clinics with Rachel Maddow fairly unique to my knowledge in consistent coverage of such things. Anyway, if doctors who aren't unethical criminals [putting aside one's personal beliefs as to abortion] are going to be assassinated, yes, people like this will fill the field.

There are stories of horrible doctors in other professions too. I don't really see much coverage of them either really. Rush Limbaugh is an easy target. Others have said things about women and women's rights repeatedly w/o much coverage at all. The OP is letting personal beliefs about abortion color things.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 11, 2013 4:28:36 PM

Joe -- I'm afraid the suggestion that the press has not generously and thoroughly covered instances of violence toward clinics and toward abortion-providers does not, in my view, come close to squaring with the facts.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 11, 2013 4:33:12 PM

"There was tons of coverage? Professor Garnett, I must have honestly missed that (although if it wasn't on NPR, then I probably missed it)."

FYI

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123126980

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104807394

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123101322

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104775375

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104841479

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105405265

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105463085

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105413931

Posted by: Mike | Apr 11, 2013 4:54:20 PM

Ouch!

Posted by: Mark | Apr 11, 2013 5:17:51 PM

"But it does seem to me to further reflect on such laws and if they can be either improved or if they really are that effective and that abortion is more of a cultural problem, rather than a legal one."

Doesn't this strengthen the argument, then, that media coverage of the Gosnell case is important, and the lack thereof to be lamented? It strikes me that the Newtown shooting is a parallel instructive case. The crime occurred in a state that, even before the recent legislation signed into law, heavily regulated guns, there is not much evidence that, had any currently proposed regulations been in effect, that the crime would have not occurred, and yet the media has (rightly) covered both the event and its political aftermath continuously, and in some detail. Indeed some media outlets (I'm thinking of Morning Joe, for example) have quite self-consciously taken a role in addressing what they see as a cultural issue with respect to gun-ownership.

So to me it begs the question what's different with respect to the media's coverage of each event?

Posted by: Josh DeCuir | Apr 11, 2013 6:34:33 PM

"But it does seem to me to further reflect on such laws and if they can be either improved or if they really are that effective and that abortion is more of a cultural problem, rather than a legal one."

Doesn't this strengthen the argument, then, that media coverage of the Gosnell case is important, and the lack thereof to be lamented? It strikes me that the Newtown shooting is a parallel instructive case. The crime occurred in a state that, even before the recent legislation signed into law, heavily regulated guns, there is not much evidence that, had any currently proposed regulations been in effect, that the crime would have not occurred, and yet the media has (rightly) covered both the event and its political aftermath continuously, and in some detail. Indeed some media outlets (I'm thinking of Morning Joe, for example) have quite self-consciously taken a role in addressing what they see as a cultural issue with respect to gun-ownership.

So to me it begs the question what's different with respect to the media's coverage of each event?

Posted by: Josh DeCuir | Apr 11, 2013 6:34:33 PM

The slew of links references the murder of George Tiller, which seen as particularly shocking. Sadly, it was not totally so. Tiller himself was shot in the past. Others were murdered. Loads of vandalism, assaults and threats were made. "Ouch" indeed. How familiar are people of the numbers there? "I'm afraid" not enough. Why it would be "generous" to cover this is unclear.

As to Gosnell:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/abortion-doc-snipped-moving-babies-spines-witness-article-1.1314193

http://blog.chron.com/texassparkle/2013/04/abortion-and-dr-gosnells-little-shop-of-horrors/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2306931/Dr-Kermit-Gosnell-trial-House-horrors-abortion-clinic-worker-says-standard-procedure-snip-babies-spines-scissors.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-michelman/kermit-gosnell-abortion_b_2924348.html

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/legal/murder-trial-under-way-for-philadelphia-abortion-doctor-kermit-gosnell-680785/

I can add more. "Ouch."

Posted by: Joe | Apr 11, 2013 7:37:04 PM

Joe—

Be honest, you didn’t actually read the articles you linked to, did you? I picked one at random, and found that the cause of Gosnell's slaughterhouse was explained thusly:

“The answer is simple: Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when abortion policy was established, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's primary goal was to overturn Roe v. Wade and, barring that, impose as many barriers as possible to limit access to abortion.”

The author tries to blame pro-lifers (yes, you read that right). Not what you bargained for, huh?

Posted by: Mark | Apr 11, 2013 7:55:25 PM

David, "pro-life propaganda" would be an oxymoron, and nurses, as opposed to abortionists, are in an industry that serves to protect and defend human life.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 12, 2013 8:33:19 AM

I read some of them. To be "honest."

Yes, as noted above, if we want to prevent this sort of illegality, the availability of reasonable safe health care, including abortion services, is the best way to go. If you murder abortion doctors, e.g., the ones who remain at times might be not the best possible. We saw this in the back alley days of criminalization too. Deny Medicaid funding, poor women will be more desperate etc.

"So why did women go to his clinic? Why not choose a legitimate, reputable provider of abortion care? Evidence suggests that a number of factors influenced a woman’s decision to seek care at Gosnell’s clinic: Medicaid’s refusal to provide insurance coverage for most abortions; the scarcity of abortion providers in Pennsylvania (and across the nation); the fear of violence perpetrated by protestors at clinics and the right-wing culture that has so stigmatized abortion that many think it is still illegal 40 years after Roe v. Wade."

There are various horrible stories of physicians harming patients, down to botched operations and so on. They are not examples of the norm. I reckon those who want to smear physicians can single them out too.

See also:

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/12/there_is_no_gosnell_coverup/

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2013 2:49:47 PM

Joe, if you want to avoid these heinous crimes, you begin by affirming the Dignity of every Human Life, you don't continue to ignore the uncomfortable facts, or try to deflect the issue by changing the nature of the debate.

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 15, 2013 2:55:05 PM

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